It Came From The Bowels

I work where?

I wish I had a dollar for every time a writer used the word “bowels” to describe a library or archive. At best it conjures an image out of The Raiders of the Lost Ark. Boxes haphazardly put down anywhere on the floor just waiting for some researcher to miraculously stumble upon the one box they need to complete their research. At worst, well, I won’t finish that thought.

Yeah, it’s exactly (not) like this.

How did we get here?

Margaret Sartor and Alex Harris recently published “Where We Find Ourselves–the Photographs of Hugh Mangum 1897-1922.” They are also the curators of an exhibit of Hugh Mangum’s photographs on display now at the Duke University Nasher Museum of Art (through May 19, 2019).

The New Yorker recently published a review by Sarah Blackwood (February 14, 2019) that once again trots out the familiar trope of materials disgorged from the “bowels” of the library, saved from certain obscurity or worse. The kerfuffle started with this description of the provenance of the collection:

They were rescued once, in the nineteen-seventies, only to be relegated to the back-yard greenhouse of Mangum’s nephew; they were rescued again, in the nineteen-eighties, when they were donated to Duke University. As recently as 2013, more boxes of negatives turned up, this time from the bowels of special collections and marked “discard.” The negatives have passed through the hands of family members, neighborhood activists, local photographers, librarians, archivists, and scholars.

Where to even begin unpacking this quote?

Deteriorated glass plates with dirt and paper stuck to them.

First, while we do not recommend storing family records in a chicken coop one could argue that “benign neglect” kept these important documents and images from the landfill. My guess is these plates were handed down through the family, perhaps put aside and forgotten. But for whatever reason the family did not throw them in the trash bin. As vaguely alluded to in the article eventually other people realized the importance of these plates and actively decided to find a permanent repository for them.

The original Hugh Mangum Collection came to Rubenstein Library in 1986 (now part of the Archive for Documentary Arts). Additional materials were discovered and added to the Mangum collection in two rounds. The latest came around 2013. I believe these were the ones found in the chicken coop/barn mentioned in the New Yorker article.

Paper stuck to glass plates.

These “chicken [expletive]” plates as Blackwood describes them came to Conservation sometime around 2016. The plates were very dirty, gritty, and many had paper stuck to them. We cleaned about 250 of these glass plates in house and sent several to the Northeast Document Conservation Center for more in-depth treatment. Henry Hebert, Special Collections Conservator, even consulted with and helped install a few of the Mangum plates at the Nasher. The Digital Production Center digitized this collection a few years ago including the 2013 addition. The people in Digital Collections and Curation Services worked on the metadata and building the website. The collection is available online and is worth looking at. The images are amazing.

People from collection development, technical services, research services, conservation, and the digital production center all played their part in making sure this collection was described, housed, and preserved so that Sartor and Harris could write about them and curate their exhibit. I won’t even start on how many Nasher staff worked on the exhibit.

Why words matter

Look, I get it. Authors need to write compelling narratives and simply finding materials already described and housed in a library isn’t very interesting to most people. Story trumps details, which can get lost or worse willfully ignored. But herein lies the problem with using “from the bowels of special collections.” There is a lot of hidden labor in libraries and archives. People more eloquent than I have written about this issue. We talk a lot in Technical Services about how we can best tell our stories because what we do is often invisible to the public. Our day-to-day work isn’t sexy or glamorous. Most days are made up of very routine and frankly boring work (hello mold removal!). The work also takes its toll physically and often emotionally. Don’t even get me started on salaries in a female-dominated education-related profession. That is why it is hurtful when our work is ignored to make the story sound more miraculous than it is.

At least Sartor acknowledges (pp 157-158) many of the people that had a hand in making this collection, book, and exhibit a reality. She appropriately thanks Erin Hammeke, Senior Conservator, who spearheaded the conservation project. Except Sartor uses another sad trope, “magic,” to describe the conservation of these materials. As if the conservation of these plates weren’t done by a collective of highly skilled people but rather by the wave of a magic wand. Poof! Conservation Managed! Erin, Henry, Rachel Penniman, and Emma Kimmel, then our intern, spent many hours painstakingly cleaning and housing all those plates.

Mangum housed in the (not bowel-like) stacks.

The hero of this story is not the creators of this book and exhibit (although these are wonderful). The heroes should  be the people behind the scenes working really hard every day to collect, describe, house, digitize, preserve, shelve, and retrieve collections so that when their user appears these collections can be pulled from the shelf and handed to them (hello Ranganathan!). The fact that you can walk into a library or archive, request something, and a few minutes later it shows up on your table feels like magic. I assure you it is not.

As I write these thoughts we are preparing for the grand opening of “Women’s Work,” our first exhibit of materials from the newly acquired Lisa Unger Baskin Collection. This collection focuses on women in publishing, art, medicine, literature, society, and so much more. It helps uncover work that is often unseen, unacknowledged, or simply ignored. I wish Blackwood would have taken some time to acknowledge the hard work so many have done to make sure that the Mangum collection didn’t fade into obscurity. At least Blackwood seems to be listening to the archivists on Twitter. Maybe she realizes now that repeating the phrase “it came from the bowels” is demoralizing to those of us who work behind the scenes to make our amazing collections usable now and in the future.

Thanks to Kate Collins, Rubenstein Library Research Services Librarian, for speaking up about the Mangum Collection in response to Blackwood’s review, and for sending me a link to Blackwood’s response on Twitter.

Beth Doyle is the head of the Conservation Services Department and the Leona B. Carpenter Senior Conservator at Duke University Libraries. She can be reached via email at <b.doyle@duke.edu>.

Extreme Enclosures, pt. 3: Boxing “The North American Indian” Folios

Edward S. Curtis’ The North American Indian (1907-1930) was an ambitious project. Curtis set out to document North American indigenous peoples, capturing their lives through both photographs and narratives. This work is not without its critics in the modern era and Curtis himself is a complicated historic figure. That said, the plate volumes are filled with stunning images and are beautifully printed.

Our edition has 20 volumes of folio plates, each with an average of 36 individual plates. These are housed in portfolio-folders that are tied at the foredge. A very thin piece of tissue is in between each plate. These portfolios do not provide adequate protection from abrasion, dust, light, and heavy use. It is also very difficult to find an image within the stack of plates when a patron requests one.

Tedd is back and building boxes!

After discussion with the curators we decided we to build custom enclosures for the plate volumes . Each plate will be housed in a paper folder, and each volume would receive a custom cloth drop-spine box with a label clearly indicating the contents. This solution will provide the most protection for the plates, and will make finding a plate easy when it is needed for a class or for a patron.

The custom enclosures for “The North American Indian” plate volumes was generously supported by Jan Tore Hall (T’73)  through the DUL Adopt-a-Book program. His donation was made in memory of Inger Tavernise, with thanks for the shared times in service to the University through its Library.

Mr. Hall’s donation allowed us to purchase custom folders for the prints, and bookcloth and binders board for the boxes. Rachel re-foldered and labeled each print to prepare them for boxing. We brought back Tedd Anderson to make the 20 oversized custom boxes. As readers may remember, Tedd worked in the lab for many years creating extreme enclosures for all kinds of books. We knew he could make these large boxes efficiently and beautifully. The first set is finished and labeled and ready for the shelf.

Here are some action shots of the boxes in production.

We call it “Brick Henge.”

Pressing edges using the “Duke Stool Support System (TM)” (aka the stool no one likes to sit on but is a great extension for the floor press).

That stool has found its true calling.

The new labels tell you what is in the box, a huge improvement over the old enclosures.

And here is the before and after reveal.

 

Original portfolios.

(top) Original portfolio and (bottom) new custom box.

New custom boxes.

Individual folders for plates inside custom box.

Quick Pic: Casual Friday

The Rubenstein Library’s History of Medicine Collection always seems to provide the most unusual examples of illustration. This text (catalog record here) by English physician Robert Fludd, published by Johann Theodor de Bry in 1623, is no exception. The anatomical specimen is both comical and gruesome…but also strangely familiar.

Johann Theodor’s father, Theodor de Bry, was also prominent publisher and engraver, and many of his works on exploration of the New World can be found in Duke’s collection. Theordor’s 1590 engraving, The Trvve Picture of One Picte from the second edition of Thomas Hariot’s book A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia, appears in the same pose.

10 year Challenge: The Lab Edition

“The 10 Year Challenge” is a current meme making its way across the interwebs. Whether it is a harmless bit of fun or some brilliantly concocted bit of AI facial recognition training is hard to say. But what the heck, we will play along with The Lab Edition.

About ten years ago we were nearing the end of the Perkins Project. We moved out of Perkins in January 2007 to Trent Hall, the former nurses dorm on the medical campus. Preservation occupied one hallway of the dorm. We shared the hallway with the Preservation Officer, the Bindery Unit, and the Digital Production Center. Conservation had two rooms for the lab, and one dorm room for the Collections Conservator’s office.

Trent Hall was an adventure. It allowed us to learn another side of campus and we logged a lot of steps in going back and forth to meetings in Perkins. We evicted one bird (just like in our old space), had a Chinese restaurant one floor down, and the lab had beautiful windows. The space was cramped, but we made it work.

Trent Hall lab (L) and the Verne and the renovated Tanya Roberts Conservation Lab (R).

In August 2008 we moved back to the renovated Perkins Library and into the Verne and Tanya Roberts Conservation Lab. The newly renovated space was large, bright, and chock full of ergonomic furniture and specialized conservation equipment. What a difference it was from Trent and our old original lab space. Ten years later it feels like we have been here forever, yet some days if feels like we just got here. We are so thankful for the Roberts family and their support of our lab. That support has enabled our program to grow in incredible ways. We look forward to what the next ten years will bring.

A Century of Face Cream

Over the past year, I’ve looked at a lot of print advertisements for Pond’s cosmetic products. Hundreds of them at least, maybe even thousands.  The ads promote the properties of “Extract Cream”, “Cold Cream”, “Vanishing Cream”, lipstick, tissues, foundation – you name it! They span over 100 years, with the earliest printed in 1884 and the most recent from the mid-1990s. The work of well known photographers, such as Edward Steichen or Baron de Meyer, appear in some of the ads.

Ponds magazine ad, 1927

So what is the cause of this cosmetic ad obsession?

Many familiar with the Duke’s Rubenstein Library are also familiar with the Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History. One of the largest collections within the Harman Center is the selected collections of the J. Walter Thompson Company (JWT), a long-running advertising agency that has worked with many well-known American companies. The JWT collection includes a large number of domestic advertisements for the Chesebrough-Ponds company and the materials had a number of condition issues that made handling difficult for researchers and sometime dangerous for the ads. It became necessary to go through the collection, item by item, and stabilize or rehouse items as needed.

If you are curious about the name of the collection, here is a little history: Pond’s Cream was originally invented by Theron T. Pond in 1846. The original product included extracted witch hazel and was called “Golden Treasure”,  but was shortly renamed to “Pond’s Extract”. The Chesebrough Manufacturing Company was founded in 1859 by Robert Chesebrough as an oil business which produced a petroleum jelly product called “Luxor”, eventually known as “Vaseline”. Chesebrough Manufacturing Company and Pond’s Creams merged in 1955, but were acquired by Unilever in 1987.

The collection is stored in 22 metal-edge boxes, and each box contains many folders. Some of the folders were too small for their contents and the advertisements were susceptible to sliding around as the box was handled. These small folders were replaced with a size that fit the box exactly to reduce the likelihood of damage during transport and shelving.

Multiple folders in a box, some folders are different sizes

Each folder contains many magazine or newspaper advertisements, all different sizes and printed on different papers. They were likely retained by JWT as “tear sheets” and many are mounted to heavy black cardstock.  Some of those black cardstock pages have many advertisements mounted in layers.

Many items per folder, sometimes many items per page

The black paper mounts include hole punches and remnants of textile tape, suggesting they were once the pages of large scrapbooks or albums and were disbound and cut down before entering the library’s collection. The advertisements printed on newsprint have become very brittle. The larger sheets were folded down to fit on the album page and many of them have cracked along the folds.

Some advertisments are printed on very brittle newsprint, with broken folds

Items in this condition were repaired along the folds with thin Japanese paper, toned to match the newsprint. They were refolded along the original creases (now reinforced) and placed in clear polyester envelopes to protect them from further damage as researchers page through the folder.

Before and after images of repaired and refolded newsprint.
Before and After repairing and refolding

Unfolded and unmounted newsprint ads were fully encapsulated in clear polyester, using our ultrasonic welder.

Some brittle items were just encapsulated
Before and after encapsulation

The adhesive mounting many of the advertisements to their album pages has failed. Several of them were remounted or repaired with pressure sensitive tapes, which have since oxidized and discolored the paper. Sometimes the tape adhesive had crept out from under the cellophane tape carrier and was causing the ad to stick to its neighbors. These taped items were treated by removing the tape carrier and reducing the adhesive to prevent further sticking. Unfortunately, stain reduction was outside the scope of this project.

Many items had yellowing pressure sensitive tape, which had to be removed.
Before and after tape removal.

Some of the ads that were detaching from their mounts had not come away completely. As a result, it was very easy for them to tear or to have parts torn off during normal use. The example below is pretty typical, where just the top-left corner is still attached to the cardstock mount. I was able to repair scarf tears, rejoin the separated parts, and/or re-adhere the page to the mount with wheat starch paste.

Before and after images of damaged advertisements, lifting from mounts, and after repairs.

Many hours have gone into stabilizing and addressing the housing needs of this collection. While the treatment has been fairly low-tech and the decisions straightforward, the results go a long way to making this advertisement collection more usable in the reading room.

 

Quick Pic: What a Difference a [Press] Makes

Two books side by side, one thinner and one thickerWhile these two books look very different, they are actually the exact same edition. They were both printed with the same setting of type and on the same paper. The book on the left is in a later binding than the one on the right, with some added edge gilding. But why the difference in textblock thickness?  The one on the left was pressed very hard by the binder. It’s pretty incredible how compact a textblock can become with enough pressure -and pressing is not without its downsides. These books were letterpress printed and the dimensional impression of the type, which is an artifact of the printing process, has been completely pressed out of the thinner copy.

What’s a Flap Book Without a Flap?

By Rachel Penniman, Conservation Specialist

What do you when your anatomical flap book has gone all to pieces? This book arrived with every flap piece detached from its page but all still in good condition. Having the flaps detached actually made it easier to see the usually hidden backs of those parts, but what is a flap book without a flap?

To maintain access to the individual parts but still retain the interactive and movable essence of the book, we decided not to reattach the loose parts to their pages. Instead they were put in Mylar pockets hinged to a Mylar backing sheet. So the flaps move in a way similar to what was originally intended while still allowing the back of each part to be more accessible.

 

Quick Pic: Women’s Work

Women’s Suffrage sign and pin cushion

Several items came down for boxing this week. These two items are from the Lisa Unger Baskin Collection. The top is a metal “Votes for Women” sign in a delightful bluebird design. Below are two sides of a small sampler pin cushion that is stitched on the finest linen ground I’ve seen.

These objects represent two aspects of women’s work. The work of the hand, that was/is often taught as a useful life skill. And the work of women as full citizens of their country…the work of standing up for your rights and exercising your right to vote. The Baskin Collection is full of objects like these and it is a real thrill and honor to have them come to the lab for custom enclosures.

What’s Going On Inside the Frame?

As part of the Rubenstein Library Renovation Project a few years ago, the Special Collections Hallway Gallery was enlarged and rebranded as the Rubenstein Photography Gallery. The  67′ by 25′ space features a different collection from the Archive of Documentary Arts every few months. Because it still functions as a primary route through the building, the gallery provides an inviting environment for visitors to experience the library’s photographic collections.

We have been monitoring the environmental conditions within the space continually since it reopened in 2015. Although the temperature stays very stable in the building throughout the year, we do see some fluctuation in the relative humidity (RH) for the gallery. In the coldest winter months, public spaces tend to become very dry because of the heating systems. The question has been lingering in our minds: what are the environmental conditions that the artwork is experiencing inside the frame? Last fall, a small working group from Conservation, Exhibitions, Preservation, and the Archive of Documentary Arts gathered to design a simple experiment to try and answer this question.

As part of this experiment, we wanted to not only measure the temperature and RH within our normal frames, but see if there was something simple we could do to buffer any changes to those conditions. While there are many options available to change the conditions inside a frame, we determined the easiest (and cheapest) option would be to seal frame contents in a relatively impermeable package.

Diagram of sealed frame package

Framed photographs in our galleries include several components inside each frame. The glazing of our frames is a UV-filtering acrylic. Beneath that is a window mat cut to the size of the artwork. The print is mounted to another piece of mat board underneath. At the back of the package is a piece of corrugated board made of white plastic (polypropylene).  We hypothesized that by taping the outside edges of this “package” of material with polypropylene tape that the air exchange inside the frame could be significantly reduced and therefore reduce the change in RH. We decided to set up two identical frames for comparison, one with a sealed package and one without.

We acquired two HOBO MX2300 Temp/RH dataloggers with external sensors and I set to work fitting them into two of our standard gallery frames.

The datalogger sensor is much thicker than the art that usually goes inside one of these frames, so I had to build up the thickness of the package with several layers of mat board. I created a central stack of mat board with a window cut to fit the sensor. I chose not to use full sheets of mat board for a couple of reasons:

  1. We have a lot of small scrap pieces already and I didn’t want to waste materials.
  2. Frame packages typically only have one full mat board sheet and window mat inside. Adding five or more full sheets to the package seemed like a lot of additional material, which might act as added RH buffer.
  3. The rate of change between the two frames was the important variable. As long as each package was constructed with the same quantity of material inside, we should be able to get a representative comparison.

An inkjet print with a cut mat and the glazing was placed on top of the sensor. The sensor cable was passed through a hole cut in the corrugated plastic, allowing me to mount the logger to the back of the frame. The contents were all stored in a stable 45% RH environment for several weeks before installation. With the package all together, I sealed up the outer edges as well as the hole in the plastic backing with clear tape.  The sealed package was then placed inside the metal and wood frames.

Back of the frames, with data loggers mounted.

We installed our sealed and unsealed experiment frames in the gallery in early December 2017, along with a new show. The frames were mounted on a small wall, next to the window to our reading room, so as to be less of a distraction from the rest of the exhibit and to be in close proximity to the data logger which monitors the gallery space.

Experimental frames (left) hung inside the alcove, across from the data logger (right).

The inkjet prints we included in each frame had a short description of the experiment so that curious patrons would understand the the purpose of their unusual positioning.

After five months, we took the frames down and compiled all the environmental data. In the graph below, the gallery conditions are marked in grey, the unsealed frame is marked in yellow, and the sealed frame is marked in blue. Temperature values are displayed on the left, while RH values are displayed on the right.

The data confirms that the space maintains temperature very well, staying right around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The RH in the gallery space does bounce around quite a bit throughout the winter months, fluctuating between around 50% and 20%. Late January 2018 seems to have been particularly volatile.

We were very surprised at how well each frame responded to the conditions in the gallery. Even inside the unsealed frame, we see a significant smoothing out of the RH graph: the over 30 point spread of the gallery RH is reduced to around 12% change in the unsealed frame and the contents did not drop below 30% RH. The sealed frame package performed very well, with only about 6% overall RH change in 5 months.

While the methodology of this experiment does have flaws, it is an inexpensive and adaptable approach to measuring environmental conditions. We can be reassured that our normal framing practices protect prints from drastic changes, even in the most volatile months. We can also take the relatively simple and cost-effective step of sealing the frame package to provide additional protection for more sensitive materials. This experiment has raised questions of how other methods, such as sealing the frame package differently or adding pre-conditioned board, might compare. It is likely that our investigations will continue, so that we can make the best choices for our collections.

Duke University Libraries Preservation